Writer of Horror Fiction

Latest

Review of Jason Bovberg’s “Blood Red”

Blood Red introduces us to Rachel, a 19 year old college student living with her father and step mom. Waking up one morning, she finds her step mother passed out on her bed with some sort of red glow emanating from inside her skull. For all intents and purposes, she appears to be dead, though her skin feels strange and when Rachel gets near the source of the red glow, it burns her. Racing across the street, she discovers much the same thing has happened to her boyfriend and his mother. There are other corpses out on the street-it is as if their lives were all snuffed out in the same instant, replaced by the strange red glow. Realizing her father is not home, Rachel takes off on a hunt for him, hoping and praying that he is somehow still alive. Her journey leads her to other survivors like herself-confused, frightened, and many gruesomely injured after trying to revive their loved ones and coming into contact with the red glow. The local hospital is filling up with the ‘dead’ and dying, along with the few bewildered survivors who remain behind. Planes are dropping out of the sky and out of control fires are destroying much of Rachel’s Colorado town. But even worse, as the day goes on, it appears that something is happening to the corpses. They appear to be slowly waking up…but they are also being transformed. Not into zombies, or even remotely close to the people they were before. They are becoming something far stranger, and far more horrible than anyone could ever imagine.

Blood Red is possibly one of the most unique zombie novels I have ever read, if it even can be categorized as such. The creatures that inhabit the pages of this first of a trilogy are far different than the traditional dead walkers who crave human flesh. The author has introduced something new and incredibly creepy to the mix that needs to be read about to fully comprehend. Providing details may be deemed a spoiler, but since he has created something entirely new, I will leave it in his hands (and words) to describe his creation, spoilers or not.  

Despite the uniqueness of this tale, the driving force behind what will compel most readers to check out this story remains much the same as with other apocalyptic fiction tales, which is the quest to survive and to comprehend what is happening in a world that has fallen into chaos. Rachel’s journey is both heartbreaking and disturbing. Like many characters that inhabit the pages of novels where the impossible becomes reality, she finds a way to not only cope with her situation, but strives to understand it. With a level head on her shoulders, she becomes somewhat of a leader-discovering things about the strange new threats that surround the meager pool of survivors still inhabiting her town. She is vulnerable yet strong-a character who feels real and genuine. The key characters that surround her felt much the same-solid, using whatever coping mechanisms they have to deal with the situation, for better or for worse.

While some readers may be turned off by the present tense format of this story-it is a style rarely used, I found it to be of minimal to no distraction. The author was able to put you in the action and keep the pace and tone aggressive, to match the immediacy and intimacy of Rachel’s situation. Blood Red was different, intriguing, and I was left very curious as to what will happen next.

Blood Red can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Red-Jason-Bovberg-ebook/dp/B00JK1UW4E/ref=la_B00JJ36NNW_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1398292709&sr=1-2

Review of Stephen Kozeniewski’s “The Ghoul Archipelago”

The Ghoul Archipelago is a story that jumps around a bit at first, giving the reader the impression that the story is speeding ahead through time with each new batch of characters introduced.  It does take a bit of reading before we get to see how all these loose strands the author is introducing weave together.  The vast majority of the story takes place in the South Pacific in the first few weeks and months after the rise of the undead.  We are introduced to an assortment of characters whose stories will intersect in time, and who are coming to grips with the end of the world in their own various ways.

Reverend Sonntag, leader of a group of missionaries, sees the rising of the dead as a sort of second coming-the transition to the next world, with the undead as something we should either worship or have the desire to become.  Rand Bergeron, a billionaire behind an extremely successful virtual reality sex device, sees business opportunities to be developed with the few select societies in the South Pacific that haven’t been annihilated by the undead.  “Howling Mad” Martigan and his crew of smugglers are simply trying to survive the pirates who’ve found a way to use the undead to their own advantage while at the same time getting their cargo to the ruthless gangster who they are sure has survived the end of the world and who will destroy them if he doesn’t get what he is promised.  Surviving members of the U.S. Navy and Marines, led by a power hungry politician who claims he is now the President of what remains of the United States, have their own designs on taking over the region where the story takes place.

The reader is given bits and pieces of the various character’s tales at first until their paths begin to intersect.  There is no main character here.  Instead, it is a rather large ensemble with a few key players who the author does a strong job of developing into anti-heroes and villains.  Sonntag’s zealotry, Bergeron’s greed, and the military’s quest for control and order clash significantly with Martigan and his crew of quarrelsome crewmembers and a stowaway with an intriguing side story.  Outside of a few members of Martigan’s crew and a hard luck survivor who goes by the name of Tuan Jim, many of the characters here aren’t very likable and it is hard to say that anyone is a real hero, though the crew of smugglers, who go from one living or undead mishap to the next, grow on the reader as they suffer through one unbearable travail after another.  In particular, Butch, the stowaway, and Hannibal Mo, the chief engineer, are the characters who I found myself rooting for the most.

This is a well told tale despite its slow start, with some unique game changers for the zombie sub-genre.  Bergeron’s experimental approach when it comes to utilizing his virtual reality technology with the undead is something that everyone seems to want to take advantage of, in ways both repulsive and terrifying.  The undead are, on the surface, fairly traditional, though with the advent of this new technology, they are taken in some very new and disconcerting directions by the author.

Overall, a very solid entry into the zombie genre, with enough twists and new ideas to keep those who are looking for a new perspective on the classics to have fun with the story.  The characters drive this one, and there are some good ones with some crackling dialog.  A standalone novel, The Ghoul Archipelago is worth checking out for fans of adventure, horror, and of course, the undead.

The Ghoul Archipelago can be found here:    http://www.amazon.com/THE-GHOUL-ARCHIPELAGO-Zombie-Novel-ebook/dp/B00FTP5URO/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Review of Sean Schubert’s “Containment (Alaskan Undead Apocalypse Book 2)

Containment (Alaskan Undead Apocalypse Book 2) is the sequel to Infection, the first book in this trilogy, which will be completed with Mitigation, which has already been released.  The author returns to where he left off, with the two bands of survivors who were racing against death through the first few days and weeks after the first zombie rose up combining forces and doing whatever they can to find and to maintain a safe haven.  We are also introduced briefly to a military leader and the failed efforts to prevent the undead from crossing a bridge north of Anchorage, granting the monsters access to the rest of the vast state.

Neil, who led one of the groups in the first book, takes on the mantle of leadership in this book, while Dr. Caldwell, who was the leader of the other group, stepping aside and becoming more of a consultant, or moral guide for Neil.  As this new entity travels in and around Anchorage, their numbers grow and diminish thanks to other survivors they happen across and the hordes of undead they must face off against.  Of course, the newcomers and old members of the team alike add conflict and provide new challenges for Neil and the others.  Officer Malachi Ivanoff, the loose cannon police officer in the first book, finds a new friend in one of the newcomers the group comes across, and ample reasons to continue down his path of destruction and mayhem.  Other relationships hinted at being formed in the first book continue to grow and face challenges.  In general, Neil’s group, like a living organism, adapts and modifies itself to suit its challenging environment.

While the objective, as is the case in most apocalyptic tales, is survival, the story meanders for the most part, with no specific objective outside of finding food, water, and a safe haven.  The author, to his credit, makes Alaska-both Anchorage and the surrounding natural beauty, play a far more prominent role here than in the first book.  In Infection, the city of Anchorage had the feel of Any Town, USA.  There was nothing unique about this environment the undead had invaded.  Containment shares more of the unique flavor of the largest and northern-most state in the U.S., especially when the survivors step outside the confines of Anchorage and are forced to wander a bit into the wilderness.  The isolation of Alaska is both a blessing and a curse.  While the military has failed to contain the undead in the Anchorage area, there is no hint at outside intervention, either from Canada or the rest of the United States, despite the fact that the story takes place several weeks after Anchorage has been annihilated by the undead.  The characters conjecture about where the military might have made a stand and where potential larger bands of refugees might be located, but there are few tangible hints as to what is happening in the wider world around them.  It would be safe to guess that the third book in the trilogy should provide greater insight into the global picture though it seems there should have been more here.

The characters in Containment, as was the case in Infection, are well developed.  We get to know the original characters even better and the same treatment occurs with some of the new people with whom they cross paths.  Unfortunately, the level of introspection each character goes through slows this novel down a great deal in multiple places.  The action often comes to a screeching halt while either a character ponders the meaning of what is happening, a bit of their history is revealed, or in the case of a few devious characters, what they are plotting.  Still, this is a classic tale of survival in the undead apocalypse and the reader is given the opportunity to get to know these characters in depth and detail that has strong appeal.

Containment, though slow at points and with a plot that meanders a bit, provides the reader with a set of characters that are well-rounded and have a great deal of depth.  Neil and the rest of the group are easy to identify with-they are not heroes or skilled survivalists but ordinary folk trying to find their place in a world filled with the undead. It will be interesting to see what happens to them in the conclusion of this trilogy.   

Containment (Alaskan Undead Apocalypse Book 2) can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/Containment-Alaskan-Undead-Apocalypse-Book/dp/161868048X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1395493625&sr=8-2

Review of P.A. Douglas’s “The Remnant: Into The Collision”

The Remnant: Into The Collision thrusts the reader right into the madness of what the universe has become for Byron Russo, a working class grunt who, like everyone else, is waiting for the world to end.  When a man comes crashing through his living room window and wants to kill him for no better reason than to see what it feels like, it is the wakeup call Byron needs after spending a couple of weeks sitting on the couch, watching and waiting for the meteors to come that may spell the end of the all life on earth.

At first, the concept here seemed similar to that of the movie “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.”  Byron is a down on his luck slob who lost his wife and his little daughter and needs to snap out of the funk that has wrapped itself around him, not only for the past two dazed weeks of his existence, but for most of it long before the world threatened to put an end to his miserable existence.  Of course, this being an apocalyptic novel with a far darker bent than the Steve Carrell movie, Byron’s shortened existence isn’t likely to be filled with romance and pleasant moments spent contemplating the sweetness of life.  That is made clear from the opening paragraph, when Byron is forced to defend himself and kill another human being so he can stay alive.  Thus begins his awakening into his stunning new reality.  It is one in which he realizes that he still wants to make a go of it and survive for as long as possible.  With this in mind, he makes his way to the local grocery store, where he witnesses more acts of human savagery as well as the same complacency he was guilty of just a few hours earlier.  He also stumbles across another like-minded survivor named C.J., a young man who looks and talks like a thug but is pretty normal, all things considered.  C.J. introduces Byron to the group he is with, who are looking for a place to escape the madness on the streets.  Byron, who had no more of a plan than to hunker down at the factory where he works, is joined by this group who seem pretty normal.  Of course, normal under life-threatening duress can get warped fairly quickly.  They make it to the factory, which makes scuba breathing gear and has been abandoned, like most work places, since the impending destruction of the planet was revealed.  It is the ideal place to set up shop and wait to see if the world will end when the meteors come.

It isn’t a spoiler to reveal that the meteors don’t destroy the world, but wreak havoc on the atmosphere when they crash into the moon instead, altering its orbit.  One of the side effects of its new trajectory is thinner oxygen.  While not immediately lethal, it does have some horrible side effects for those forced to breathe this new air.  This makes Byron and friend’s new factory home, with its amble scuba breathing devices, a very good place to hole up.

The Remnant: Into The Collision deals with the very human struggles the band of survivors must face, including coping with outsiders who will annihilate anyone who is capable (or incapable) of standing in their way.

While the background apocalypse in this story treads new ground, the saga of humans in conflict is very traditional and shares similarities to other novels in the genre.  The air they breathe becomes the monster at their doorstep rather than some slouching beast threatening to tear them limb from limb.  Its treachery is much more insidious and devious, slowly robbing those who have no breathing devices of their faculties and turning them into drooling automatons with sluggish minds and muted reactions to the world around them.  When the trap door that is civilization swings open and those who remain alive fall into what lies beneath, the truth of their nature is revealed.  For a few survivors, like Byron, whose past life is filled with regrets, this new world is ripe with opportunities for redemption.  For others, like Richard Perry, a National Guardsman, it is an opportunity to become as depraved and vile as his withered heart desires.

This is where this tale will divide its readership.  While Richard’s abhorrent behavior may be quite plausible given his circumstances and willingness to follow his most primitive urges, having them laid out on the page will not agree with everyone.  The abrasive nature of his and his men’s actions speak to the true depth of depravity humanity is capable of, while Byron’s efforts to become a better man demonstrates what we are all capable of, regardless of how harrowing the circumstances we find ourselves facing.

The Remnant: Into The Collision can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Remnant-Collision-P-A-Douglas-ebook/dp/B00IKMLEPA/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Review of Thom Brannan’s “Lords of Night”

Lords of Night gets right to the heart of the story by introducing us to the main character Jack and his band of protectors, with their assortment of colorful nicknames, smack dab in the middle of their journey into the barren wastelands of what was once the eastern seaboard of the United States.   They are somewhere between New York City and Washington D.C. when the story starts off, on mission to save the human race.  Besides Jack, there is Five Oh, Dusty, Sandman, Rook, Zero, and the Ranger, who are all highly skilled ex-military men (except for the Ranger, who has his own unique set of skills).  Much of the story is told in flashbacks, giving us a history of each of the secondary characters in their own words and how they dealt with the day the dead rose up and the world changed forever.  Jack’s story, on the other hand, is told through the journal entries he makes during their trip, giving the reader both his back story and an understanding of why he is so special and critical to the survival of the human race.

While this book could be categorized as zombie apocalyptic fiction, the zombies here are very much secondary-little more than a nuisance controlled by far more powerful creatures.  The author introduces the reader to the locust people-humans transformed into malicious monsters who serve their masters, the aforementioned Lords of Night.  There are seven of these powerful fiends who serve the ancient enemy which came to earth from the stars long ago.  They have re-awoken their master and Jack was a witness to its rebirth.  The teenager has special talents that seemingly escaped the notice of the ancient enemy’s minions at first, but have since grown and have drawn them to him.  While he doesn’t understand much of his role in things, he knows that within him is the potential key to stopping an enemy to mankind that is older than time itself which has plans for humanity that are far worse than complete annihilation. 

Lords of Night moves at a rapid clip through the mission Jack needs to accomplish and the assortment of characters surrounding him are an interesting bunch, especially the Ranger and Zero.  Zero is a cocky, lazy, talented marine recon sniper who (as the author aptly points out) is reminiscent of Hudson from the movie Aliens with his snarky ways and can’t-do attitude, as well as his ability to come through when absolutely necessary.  The Ranger, another larger than life character, might be insane but in the best way possible given the perils Jack and the rest of the team face.  His talented shooting ability and fearless loyalty in the face of all odds make him perhaps the most appealing character in the book.  While these two steal the show, all six of Jack’s guardians are interesting, in fact far more so than Jack.  The teen is likable and his story is compelling, but he is far less fun to read about than his companions. 

The story is, turn by turn, more creative than most and gives the reader a unique spin on the typical apocalyptic horror novel.  Again, the zombies found on these pages are secondary-the true menaces are the locust people and their masters, who have an evil intelligence and maliciousness that challenge Jack and his crew every step of the way.  The history and ongoing saga of the ancient enemy gets almost a bit too complicated at times, including the nuances of the part Jack is to play, though it all becomes clear in the end.  Twisty as it is, the story is sewn up quite effectively before the last page is turned. 

Fans of apocalyptic fiction that are receptive to authors taking creative license on the traditional should enjoy Lords of Night.  The main characters are well developed and the backstory is complex.  The author perhaps is a bit over-protective of his characters-it takes quite a bit to send them to their demise, though that is in some ways a forgivable offense considering how entertaining they are as a team.  That and the sometime slow pace found earlier in the story are my two main (and minor complaints) in what is otherwise a rollicking adventure tale.     

Lords of Night can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/Lords-Night-Thom-Brannan/dp/1618680307/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1393486184&sr=8-1

Review of D.S. Sager’s “Evil Vein: Dark Beginnings”

Evil Vein: Dark Beginnings is an apocalyptic origin tale that introduces the reader to a scientist bent on trying to give his terminally ill wife a new lease on life.  When the lab he works for threatens to shut down and ruin his work, he decides that he will share his ‘Blue Gem Serum’ with his home town in Northern California.  The serum allows for the genetic mutation of any life form it comes into contact with, making it stronger, more adaptable, and more intelligent and vicious.  When the scientists dumps it into the local water supply, the crab population immediately undergoes a dramatic genetic transformation, turning them into a hybrid that looks like a cross between its predecessor and a scorpion, complete with a lethal sting that transforms its human victims into the living dead.  The monsters become land dominant and start attacking the people in the town of Tylerton soon after.

The duel threat of the scrabions (as they are later dubbed) and the undead unleash an assault that is viewed through the eyes of multiple characters, some of which meet a very unfortunate end rather gruesomely and others who manage to survive the first waves of assault.  This story takes place over a period of a day or so, with the town caught in the crossfire of an army of constantly adapting and cunning genetic mutations and its own transformed population of the living dead.

While the tale of how patient zero is exposed to whatever the cause of its own un-death is one that has been done before, it is far rarer to include another threat that is ends up being far greater danger to humanity than the undead.  In fact, I would be hard pressed to describe this novel as a zombie apocalypse story, since it is in fact more of a genetic horror/sci-fi tale that happens to have zombies in it.  The scrabions take over as the primary danger-the one that the military personnel trying to quarantine Tylerton struggle to deal with and that the CDC is hard pressed to find a way to stop or destroy.  That this is the driving force behind this story might irritate any zombie purists out there, but the mixture of the two monsters is well done.

The ensemble cast caught inside Tylerton as it is torn apart is a mixed bunch, as is usually the case when an author introduces the reader to a platoon of characters.  It was hard to keep track of all of them at first, at least until they started grouping up.  With nearly five hundred pages to work with, the author doesn’t shirk at character development, though it slowed the pacing a bit at first.  It took a bit for the momentum to build, but by the time I was a third of the way into the novel it had become one of those hard to put down thrill rides.  The reader is provided with ample background on both those characters facing the threat of the undead and scrabions as well as the military leaders and members of the CDC trying to understand and contain the menace that has conquered Tylerton.  Some characters were naturally more compelling than others, while a select few were downright annoying.  It is tough to juggle so many different actors crossing the stage with their stories being interwoven in bits and pieces until they join forces and their stories coalesce.  In the end, the author does a relatively solid job of herding them all in the right direction.

The depth of detail (on the genetic mutations, the town, and the characters) the author provides in this novel is both its blessing and its curse.  While it may seem like a stretch that a genetically mutated crab’s bite causes zombism, the science and the scrabions ability to adapt to its environment and perceived threats are intriguing and the implications terrifying; not only for this story, but for our innate fear of such dabbling by modern science.  What sort of horrors will geneticists create in the name of progress?  Unfortunately, the zombies are left to suffer in many ways-they seem only a moderate threat when compared to the scrabions, who continue to adapt to any form of attack unleashed on them-making themselves stronger and resistant to things like fire and other forms of assault.  They are cunning, work like a colony of ants to go after their objectives, and seem for all intents and purposes unstoppable.  Never would I have thought that a cross between a crab and scorpion could be this scary.

The story is solid with some entertaining twists and turns.  The characters, for the most part, are believable and diverse.  Providing the viewpoint of the General in charge of maintaining the battle lines around Tylerton was an added bonus that gave a unique perspective.  In many ways, his story was more intriguing and impactful than that of the survivors, and will lead to some compelling storylines in the sequel.  The duel threat of genetic mutations and the undead gives this book its own flavor that sets it apart from the pack.

Evil Vein: Dark Beginnings can be found here:      http://www.amazon.com/Evil-Vein-Dark-Beginnings-Volume/dp/1618681869/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1391730659&sr=8-1

Review of Scott Carleton’s “Collapse: A Survival Thriller”

Collapse: A Survival Thriller is a novella that tells the story of Matt Avery, a regular guy working in a downtown office building who gets caught up in the middle of a blackout and the riots that follow.  With the roads jammed and roaming bands of looters and others who are looking for a reason to get violent, Matt is forced to take to the road on foot to get back home.  With him is his hotheaded co-worker who feels that the rules of society no longer apply.  Matt is a prepper and is prepared with survival items in his office, in his car he must abandon at work, and is focused on getting home to wife and child, where he has more supplies to ride out the storm.  This short tale tells of the perils he faces and the preparations he has made so that he and his family could survive when things go bad.

I was provided a copy of this novella by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.  The story is easy to read and I was able to finish it within a couple hours.  The premise behind the tale is more generic than anything.  The city is anonymous, the cause for the blackouts is limited, outside of hints at a failing power grid, and the riots are caused initially by a woman being accidentally shot by the police when they were trying to maintain order in the city.  My interest in apocalyptic fiction mostly leans toward those with a fictional bent.  Zombies, alien invasions, and nuclear holocausts populate many if not most of the apocalyptic tales I read.  This is a far more straight forward and generically plausible meltdown of society scenario.  While the author made an effort to give Matt and his co-worker some depth, both characters are, unfortunately, as generic as the background on the story itself.  Outside of his knowledge of Matt as prepper, there is very little detail about him that made me interested in what was happening with him.  His co-worker, a thinly veiled sociopath from the get go, acts as an obvious foil to the character, with his urges to throw off the shackles of the rules of civilization barely restrained from almost the beginning of this tale.  Unfortunately, the story felt far more like an educational pamphlet on prepping than it did a story about real people.  There are hints within its pages of an author with some potential to create something with more gravitas and emotion than this piece and I hope to see something like that in the future.

Collapse would be most interesting to someone who is looking for a beginners guide on being prepared for disasters, both man-made and natural.  For a fan of apocalyptic fiction though, the story is a bit forced and fits too easily into the format of a guidebook on prepping rather than a story of people desperate to survive the rapid breakdown of society.

Collapse: A Survival Thriller can be found here:   http://www.amazon.com/Collapse-Survival-Thriller-Scott-Carleton/dp/1624090206/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659728&sr=1-3

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 136 other followers